What is the true measure of greatness? What is the threshold of renown and immortality?
For most authors, this is not the question at the forefront of their minds. For them, their valuable brain space is occupied by the nagging questions of a different nature. Sure, there are the questions of plot and character development, but there are also swirling uncertainties and doubts. Will people even like my story? Will I ever get discovered? How will I find a publisher? How will I even eat until this all falls into place? These are questions of real life, not of the world of fantasy. But when people aspire to greatness, they rarely consider how they would define it. What level of fame would they have to attain for their work to be considered a “classic?”
It is at this point that I would like to make a proposition. I would postulate that the true measure of greatness – to the extent that people remember your name and learn about your impact on humanity in history classes – is this: Becoming an adjective.
Wait, become a part of speech?! Yes indeed. Think of the towering figures of culture, the monolithic personalities that march boldly across the pages of history. Consider first the men of military might; Caesar Augustus, Napoleon to name a couple. Their deeds changed the political world. Their names comedown to us in phrases like the Augustan Age and the Napoleonic wars.
For another example, remember the philosophical pioneers or scientific innovators. We all know their names. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, as well as Euclid and Augustine. History tells us about the Socratic method, Platonic thought, Euclidian geometry, the Aristotelian view of the world and Augustinian philosophy. The same principle applies to those who affected great societal change. Think of people who would describe themselves as Lutheran or Calvinistic. An economist named John Maynard Keynes had radically different ideas in the early twentieth century and now we study Keynesian economics.
Now consider the literary greats, writers whose pens have etched sharp lines into hearts and minds. Shakespeare’s voice is now forever associated with a time period and style of language: Shakespearean English. I read a brilliant description the other day and was tempted to call it Dickensian. Or perhaps a story that pessimistically critiques society allegorically, in an Orwellian manner.
The majority of humanity does not achieve this kind of fame. Many of those that do leave their mark upon us with their own adjective did so as a result of their notoriety or infamy. Greatness is not necessarily a measure of goodness. I would caution my fellow writers to remember that with great power comes great…
…culpability for one’s actions and influence. ( Overused pop-culture cliches are NOT the way to greatness). So be bold writers, and beware. If you ever had your name in an adjective, who or what would it describe?